Espinosa on his struggles: “I know I’m way better than that”

ATLANTA - Danny Espinosa showed up at Turner Field this afternoon, took a look at the Nationals’ lineup card and didn’t see his name in the starting lineup.

Instead, Steve Lombardozzi was written in with the number “4” next to his name, indicating Lombardozzi will start at second base tonight.

“Haven’t been playing well, got benched,” Espinosa said at his locker earlier today. “I guess it just kind of is what it is. That’s the decision they made and they don’t have to explain anything to me. There’s nothing that has to be explained to me or talked to me. That’s what happened.”

Espinosa’s numbers this season haven’t been pretty. He’s put up a slash line of .173/.212/.333 through 23 games played. But while his stats have been low over the entire course of April, Espinosa said that he didn’t start feeling like he was out of whack offensively until a couple days ago.

In an attempt to get things going, Espinosa cut down on his movement in the box before a pitch got to the plate. Like most hitters, he typically rocks backwards and then continues that movement towards the ball, using his momentum to drive his body into the pitch. Over the last two days, Espinosa tried to minimize that rocking motion, instead standing more still as the pitch was delivered.

The results weren’t what Espinosa was looking for. He went 1-for-8 with five strikeouts the last two games.

“I’ve had no rhythm the last two days,” Espinosa said. “I felt like I’ve been in the box (standing) still. I have that (feeling that) I have to create something, and when I create something, I create it late and rush. So I feel like I haven’t had that easy, flowing rhythm that I had. Even though my average hadn’t shown it (this season), I felt like I was still taking good swings. The last two days, I felt it was just the opposite. I had no rhythm, I had nothing. I was just still and jumping.”

Over the course of his career, Espinosa is a .235 hitter. He’s struck out in 26.6 percent of his career at-bats and has a .310 on-base percentage, but has also averaged 19 home runs his last two seasons and has played high-level defense.

His poor offensive start to the season has knocked him out of the starting lineup and led to some tinkering with his swing, but Espinosa says he still has faith that he can improve and reach the level he knows he’s capable of.

“I have plenty of confidence in myself,” Espinosa said. “I’m not going to lie and say my first two years in the big leagues have been great, but I know I’m way better than that. And I understand that I’m way better than that. I’ve shown it at times. I think it’ll be fine. I just need to get back into that rhythm of hitting.”

Espinosa will continue to work on his timing and movement in the batting cage and during batting practice, trying to find the right balance with his pre-swing movement.

Manager Davey Johnson has faith in Espinosa, which is why he’s kept running him out there this season despite the offensive struggles. But with the Nats having issues getting things going offensively, Johnson opted to shake things up and put Lombardozzi in the lineup tonight.

“I want to get (Lombardozzi) some playing time and I need somebody to get on base,” Johnson said. “I was gonna play (Anthony) Rendon at third, and he’s not somebody that I would probably hit second. More likely Lombo will hit second and just give Espinosa a little breather.

“I’m kind of searching for guys that will battle to get on early in front of (Bryce Harper) and the rest of the guys. Lombo did such a great job last year when I played him in left field. His natural position is second base, and he’s had pretty good success against this guy here getting on base. We’re in a little rut now, and just change it up.”

Johnson said earlier today on his radio show on 106.7 The Fan that Lombardozzi would also start at second base tomorrow, but he backtracked from that when talking with reporters this afternoon, saying he’ll take things one game at a time.

“You’re liable to say anything on the radio,” Johnson said with a smile. “You know how it is.”

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